Let’s talk about money… again: MAP

We’ve discussed lately about the circuit of money in the hobby industry and the margins of each party involved, from publishers to distributors and to retailers. But there’s a lot more to be said about how the hobby industry is trying to get itself established as a relevant market. Today, let’s talk about Minimum Advertising Price, MAP in short.

What is MAP?

Publishers (or, in some cases, co-publishers) choose a retail price for their product, which they communicate to their distribution partners and the information flows down the supply chain to the final customer. All their discount structure will be based on this retail price (MSRP), and what you – the final customer – pays is (or, rather, should be) very close to that price. In reality, things work totally differently. You will find games with an MSRP (Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price) of $80 deeply discounted by online shops down to $20, and this is becoming more of a common practice in an ever larger, fast growing industry with an entry barrier eradicated by Kickstarter.

MAP (the acronym expands into “Minimum Advertised Price”) is a tool used by large publishers, with strong and respected presence in the hobby industry, to make sure that retailers do not deeply discount their titles. Asmodee, CMON Limited and Iello are some of the major players who adopted MAP policies and this is briefly how it works: retailers are only allowed to carry their products if the price they display on their website or in their shop is at most a percentage lower (usually 20%) than the MSRP.

What kind of dirty trick is that? Are they even allowed to do so? And how can they enforce it? Let’s go through them one by one…

Is MAP a good thing?

In my opinion the answer is definitely a YES.

In most cases, a MAP policy is introduced to protect brand value rather than increase margins. Obviously profit is important (that’s why it is a business and not a non-profit endeavour), but on the long run, profits will follow brand value and awareness rather that the opposite. Building a strong brand trumps (no pun intended) any other priorities for a big business because it ensures long term success.

With that in mind, how do you feel about a board game with an MSRP of $50 for which you get to pay $15 less a year after its original release (assuming you know nothing about that game)? Would you buy it? I probably would, but my expectations would be low. It happened to me with Moongha Invaders, a game by Martin Wallace – one of the most respected game designers – I got it for $15 at Gen Con last year. I had heard it was a good game, but it still sits on my shelf in shrink, most likely because I see it as a low value, second tier product. I preferred to open and play Scythe, a game for which I paid $100, because I paid $100!

You, as a customer, will probably feel cheated in a way, because you had the option to wait for a year after the release of a great Fantasy Flight Games title and buy it for half of its original $99.95 price. That is no longer an option. If you want the next big thing in a big box, with awesome minis, you will at best get it at $80, or settle for a second hand copy.

Now, I’m a gamer myself, so at first, I was outraged! But then, think about the newest Star Wars episode… you can go watch it when it premiers for a premium or at its regular price 1,2,3, 6 or 18 weeks later. OK, you might get to see it for a 20% discount on a Wednesday morning, but that’s that, it’s a 20% discount. Yet, we don’t complain about it, because Hollywood did not get us used to deep discounts.

Hobby industry is simply following a trend.

MAP is simply stating this: we believe we are making good games, if you believe the same and want our game, please pay the fair price.

How is MAP enforced?

Since I do not have the insights of the deals the big players are making, I can only speculate that distributors and retailers are getting on board and anyone who does not respect the policy will not get re-stock. It may not be as simple and straightforward as it sound, but it does work!

Take a look at titles by Asmodee at CoolStuffInc.com:

You can already see that Asmodee titles are not discounted more than 20%. Now, let’s take a look at one of Stonemaier’s games (a publisher I love and respect), who has not made anything but great games:

Everything is discounted more than 20%, and in my opinion for no good reason. Scythe, Between two Cities or Euphoria are great games and their MSRP is totally justified, especially for one who knows the effort needed to put such games on the market.

Although I am a gamer myself, I am also a publisher, so I may be biased about the whole MAP thing. This is why the only thing I can do is ask a simple question. Here t comes:

How do you feel about MAP?

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9 thoughts on “Let’s talk about money… again: MAP

    1. Retailers actually do not like MAP, especially online retailers. Retailers attract customers by undercutting the competition and making less of a margin on the game. Now, they are the same as everyone else.

      Kickstarter companies love MAP as it prevents miniature market, Cool Stuff Inc and similar companies from undercharging long before the Kickstarter is even over. That hurts the Kickstarter. Brick and mortar stores no longer feel like they are being undercut by online retailers that have little overhead.

      Overall MAP is a good program, though it does have some flaws.

  1. So a game that’s crap and doesn’t sell can never be sold for less than 80% MSRP ‘or you will never sell another of our games’, sounds like a great incentive for stores to stock all games a publisher offers

    1. I think the outcome will be a little more complex: store will be more conservative when ordering games, also more selective. It is also very likely that after a while (1-1.5 years from release) publishers who enforce MAP will provide themselves incentives for stores to get their less successful titles.

  2. To be frank I never heard of NSNK Games until one day, when I found Progress in the bargain bin of a FLGS. I would’ve never bought the game as I knew nothing about it and the publisher was unknown to me as well. But at the very low price I took the leap and loved it. Later I tracked down a copy of Mistfall, backed Heart of Mists and Shadowfall and Simurgh and several others are on my wish list. I now consider myself a big fan of NSNK and it is all thanks to the lack of MAP and existence of bargain bins in some shops.
    I also think MAP is potentially very bad for smaller markets (like the one here, in Czechia), where it might just happen that a title is not succesful for various reasons and then it becomes a problem for everyone, the shop owner who either throws it away or is riddled with it for months to come, the odd gamer who has noone who knows the game and will play with him and the publisher who sells almost no copies. (This happened with the Czech version of Euphoria. You can buy it for ~20 usd and it still sells slowly. If it was imperative for shops to sell it at (almost) full price, they might as well burnt it to save the space.)
    It might help local stores as opposite to online ones. And that is very commendable. I don’t really mind either way – but for me it definitely means buying less games from a publisher with such a policy – I have no problem with occasional leap of faith when the games costs ~20 bucks, but I will definitely not buy an untried game I am not 98% sure to like for 60+ usd. Also it might push even more people to the Kickstarter as there are always good saving to be made.
    (If you read it all the way here, you are awesome and I like you 😉 )

    1. OK… so I am awesome!
      Now, MAP is a policy which cannot be applies inside EU because of legal reasons.
      Looking at it from a broader point of view, MAP can an effective policy on mature and developed markets like USA, but they would be massively ineffective in emerging markets.
      But the lack of MAP comes with a threat especially to small publishers such as NSKN Games – if a critical mass of customers buy our games for a discount exceeding 50%, there is a good chance that becomes a trend and when we market a new product we can either adapt to customers’ expectations or reduce the quantity produce to cater to an ever smaller market. A few cycles of this kind and we could easily end up being out of business, because we cannot keep up with the discounts proposed to our final customers by various links in the supply chain.
      Now… if you read so far, you’re also awesome 😉

  3. Modern Family is my current favorite TV show to watch. My wife and I discovered it about season 5. We purchased all previous seasons during black friday for about $8 each. We’ve watched them many times with many different people. We wouldn’t have been able to get them all at $35+ each. $32 vs $140. Since that was from Target, the third party seller, they purchased them at the price agreed on by the company that produced them, then they had to decide whether selling it at a lower cost is a value for their company. I in NO WAY value this considerably less then the show I like less but paid a higher price to own. I value the content, not the price.

    The movie thing doesn’t track with me, either. Maybe you can argue that it’s not the same experience, but there are ways to see a movie without paying large prices. First, you can wait a few months. For various reasons, we did not get to got see Rogue One in theaters. If we had, for my family of 4, add a couple of friends and you’re looking at one experience: $84+ dollars. We purchased it instead from target, on sale, for $20. The movie is the same. We can watch it as many times a we want, with as many different people as we want. Believe it or not, I believe I get more “bang for my buck” this way. And if you want to watch it and not own it (which is the same value a movie theater offers), you can borrow it from your local library for free. The price paid doesn’t change the movie itself. Thought if a movie is bad, I’m gonna be upset I spent $84.

    Buying at a low price does not mean it devalues the content of the game. In my experience, it can potentially lead to more sales. Let’s take 7 Wonders for example. A game that my wife and I have played many, many times. We purchased it for $24.99. My value of the game was not diminished because of the price. We’ve now spent over $70 dollars in the years that have followed to get the 3 expansions. Dixit: $17.99 (50% before MAP) – this is a GO TO game for us. We’ve also sunk another $100 or so over the years on expansions. Dominion: $16.99 – played an INSANE amount and, again, spent plenty of money on expansion, as well as purchasing at a full price to give to a friend. For me, the value of a game is not in the price, it’s in the GAME. If i get an AMAZING GAME at good price, I see even more value in it. It makes me want to buy more from a company, and be willing to not wait on a good deal for expansions or a new game from them that looks amazing. ON THE FLIP SIDE: if I get a mediocre/bad game, and because of MAP, spent a nice chunk of change: I’m an unhappy customer and less likely to buy your company’s items again.

    Now, there’s also the idea of price barriers. This is nothing new, it’s why we see things listed as $19.99 vs $20. Human logic, as flawed as it is, sees $19.99 as “under $20,” where $20 is… well, in the 20s. I used to be in a hobby where the product was $9.99. Cool. I’m spending less then $10 (which I wasn’t after tax, etc…) to get this. Then, over night, they raised the price to $11.95. That’s less then $2. However, breaking that $10 barrier felt HUGE. not just for me, but for the entire community. People stopped buying cases of the sets (24 x $2 was an extra $48 for people to now pay). MANY people bought less. Myself included.

    Let’s say GAME A and GAME B have a SRP of $100 with MAP. I want both games, but $160 feels like a lot right now. I may buy one but not both. Now the same games have no MAP and are set at $65… I’ll actually consider it. We’re talking $30, and when clicking that button, seems like a lot to me. Part of that is because anything over $150 FEELS like a lot more then something that is just little under $150. If it’s some major sale and even lower… I’m all in. I’m willing to buy TWO of your games because I saved off both. I may never dive into both at $80. If (and granted I don’t understand all the intricacies of business), you receive the same amount from the retailer whether they sell it at $80 or $65, I don’t see the value of you one less unit getting into the hands of the consumer, but at a higher “perceived value” price. Doesn’t this mean one less of your product moved? Doesn’t this mean that a retailer may be less inclined to order larger quantities from you in the future?

    I have bought less Asmodee owned products since the MAP. Less Dixit. Never pulled the trigger on a Seasons (my all time favorite game) expansion cause it went from $16 to $22. There’s something mentally about it being over $20 that makes me think twice that something in the teens doesn’t. It may be my favorite game, but with mediocre reviews… Ultimately: I buy less. which means that you move less product, the retailer moves less product, and the retailer actually gets LESS of my money. It may get more on that game… but less on that purchase.

    It doesn’t anger me that a company sets a MAP. It just confuses me, at least as far as “perceived value.” Maybe it’s because my wife and I have always been deal hunters and coupons… so buying awesome things at a “deal” price raises our perceived value, cause I feel like every dollar spent gets me “more.” 2 plays on a $50 game: $25 a play. $60 for the same game means $30 a play. I’m getting less bang for my buck. Does that make sense? I see the $50 as more valuable, cause I’m getting more for less.

    These are just my thoughts, and I recognize they may be flawed.

  4. In context to the real world, board games are a luxury commodity that is only of value to those with disposable income. They are frivolous and not essential for survival.

    Ultimately, the value of any game is determined by the consmer. If consumers find MAP agreeable those game will sell at retail.

    This is price protection pure and simple publishers are assuring the floor price to control market conditions from determining the actual value of their products.

    MAP will have a chilling effect on retailers and consumers.

    Retailers will adjust by becoming risk averse to titles that do not have an established brand.

    Consumers will be leas willing to gamble with their hard earned money.

    MAP will have a net affect of hindering innovation from MAP publishers.

    What positive effects will happen with the implementation of MAP?

    Innovation will cascade to the other publishers and the niche hobby game market will continue as usual.

  5. 😀 I do see your point, however if you do not gain big enough base of people who are willing to buy your games (at a reasonable price – not only because it is currently part of a deal) you are screwed either way. In the first case you might be able to partially recoup your loses, although if it went so far you would probably lift the MAP and do the same either way.
    I had no idea it cannot apply in EU. Good for us, I guess… I agree it can help in a already strong and estabilished market (especially if you are already well-known publisher) and believe it is very beneficial for games that do not work well with online stores (Skirmishes, TCGs,…). That said I would be very interested in any data on the percieved value and the willingness to buy at full price. Is it better for the publisher if I get one of his games at fullprice or three at 2/3 of the MSRP?

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